Thursday, November 24, 2016

Vermont Feds: Attorney Pilfered As Much As $550K From Clients, Then Began Paying It Back After He Realized State Bar Investigator Was On To Him; Victim: Sticky-Fingered Defendant Kept Crappy Records, Making It Difficult To Determine Exact Amount Of Ripoff

In Burlington, Vermont, the Burlington Free Press reports:
  • A former Winooski lawyer admitted [] he began paying back money to clients from whom he had improperly diverted funds after he learned about an investigation into his conduct.

    William M. O'Brien, 60, admitted the facts of the case as described by a federal prosecutor during a court hearing. O'Brien, a longtime lawyer who represented Winooski and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, appeared in U.S. District Court in Burlington to plead guilty to a felony charge of mail fraud. The government said O'Brien took as much as $550,000 from accounts he was overseeing for two clients.

    O'Brien's lawyer Scott McGee told federal Judge Christina Reiss that much of the missing money has been paid back, and there is money set aside to finish the process. McGee and O'Brien declined to speak to reporters outside of the courtroom but provided a written statement.

    "Mr. O'Brien also expressed his regret for misusing his trust account and for putting his client funds at risk but advised the court that all client funds are accounted for and that no client has lost any money," the statement read.

    Court papers show that O'Brien took $250,000 to $550,000 from the Thelma F. Provost Trust and from funds of deceased clients Paul and Blanche Bonnette. Court papers say O'Brien used the money "to benefit himself."

    The charging documents show O'Brien used money he earned from an unrelated case to repay the two accounts in December. Prosecutors say O'Brien was aware that an investigation into his practices already was underway.

    A relative of the namesakes of one of the trusts said [] that so many of O'Brien's records from 2001-07 were poorly kept, making it difficult to determine whether everything is accounted for. Probate Court records from the Thelma F. Provost Trust shows that extended family members attempted to remove O'Brien from the trust several times from 2001-16.

    Reiss allowed O'Brien to remain free on conditions, including that he have no contact with victims or potential witnesses. A sentencing hearing is set for May in Brattleboro.

    The Vermont Professional Responsibility Board suspended O'Brien's law license Jan. 12. McGee has said O'Brien is ending his career.
    Defense lawyer McGee said in a subsequent phone interview that O'Brien "acknowledges he did not keep the records he should have kept." "He was not keeping close track of funds in and funds out, and that was, in part, what led to the problem that developed," McGee said.
    [Victim's niece JoAnn Provost] Dusharm said she and her family feel O'Brien dishonored the memories of Thelma and Joseph Provost. She said the Provosts had no children, and extended family members had few rights when it came to the trust O'Brien managed.

    "He is getting everything he deserves," she said. "Karma has come back to bite him."
For the story, see Former lawyer O'Brien admits defrauding clients.

For the U.S. Attorney press release, see Suspended Attorney William O’Brien Pleads Guilty To Wire Fraud:
  • In early 2016, O’Brien did repay about $472,000 to these two clients, but those payments were made only after O’Brien became aware he was under investigation by counsel for the Vermont bar. The Vermont Supreme Court suspended O’Brien’s law license in January.
(1) The Vermont Bar Association established a Client's Secutity Fund to reimburse screwed-over clients, at least in part, for the loss of money or property occasioned by the dishonest conduct [ie. a misappropriation, embezzlement, defalcation, or conversion of money, property, or other thing of value] of a lawyer occurring within the State of Vermont. Go here for Statement of Claim Form.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

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